Monday, March 21, 2011

Determined to be Scandalized

About once a week, an “action alert” arrives in my mailbox from an organization called “change.org.” They’re basically a left-wing slactivism web-site; occasionally they achieve useful results, but a lot of the time they’re worked up over very little. Rather like most right-wing slactivism sites in that respect.
Yesterday’s alert really brought this into focus. Last week, the big news was that a change.org campaign against corrective rape in South Africa had produced hundreds of thousands of signatures, and sparked a furore of interest within the international community at large, causing the South African government to promise to do something about the issue. Corrective rape is basically a form of sexual violence deliberately inflicted on lesbian women, either as punishment for their homosexual behaviours, or as a means of “curing” them. Often this is done with the consent or complicity of family members, or by family members themselves. (How, exactly, a traumatic heterosexual experience is supposed to encourage someone to abandon a lesbian identity, I don’t know. But there are people who think this way – and not just in Africa. I personally know of one person who it happened to in the States, and am peripherally aware of others.) Needless to say, this is a serious human rights abuse, genuinely deserving the attention of the human community.
So yesterday, following on the heels of this victory, the change.org action alert was (roll drums, strike up the fanfare) Exodus International has released a Smartphone applet. Yes folks, that’s right, time to get out your little clicky finger and petition Apple: the evil ex-gay organization is now making it’s resources available to its members on their cell-phones. This controversy is almost equal to the pro-life Krispy Kreme donut protest (yes, it’s true, we actually successfully petitioned to have the word “choice” removed from a donut add, even though it had nothing to do with abortion) in terms of its asinine petty-mindedness.
I’m not going to bother defending the applet. As far as I can make out, all it really amounts to is that Exodus members will be able to use their phones to get information and resources that are already available on the net. It’s should hardly be a scandal. Yet the LGBTQ community is determined to be scandalized.
This is an important point. I talk a lot about the fact that Christians often scandalize gay and lesbian folks with hypocritical, judgmental or homophobic behaviours – and this is certainly true. I have talked a lot less about the fact that sometimes people who identify as homosexual are hell-bent on being outraged by anything that the Christian community does, regardless of how inoffensive it actually is. To argue that Apple is promoting homophobia, or that Exodus International is contributing to gay teen suicide by producing an applet, is not only hysterical, it stretches credibility beyond the point of the absurd.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Language Politics and Family Fun

I've just been reading some of the comments on my previous posts, and since I've taken so long getting around to responding to them, I figured I'd dignify them with an entire post since I don't expect people to be patient enough to keep checking back to my neglected comments pages.
There were several people who commented on the language politics questions of "what do you call people who are attracted to members of the same sex"? This is a complicated and controversial one. Courage recommends "people who experience same sex attraction" or "persons with same sex attractions" that's clinical, not judgmental, and sidesteps the identity issues that are tied up with the gay/lesbian nomenclature. The Vatican uses "the homosexual person," or "homosexual persons." I think that both of those are fine, and not especially controversial -- "same sex attraction" used to be a term that only really appeared in Christian/anti-gay sources, but it's started to appear in clinical research on the LGBTQ side of the fence because it's inclusive of those who are same-sex attracted but who, for various reasons, do not like the various more politicized terms. I use gay and lesbian for people who have adopted a gay or lesbian identity, and LGBTQ (that's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered and Queer/Questioning -- the last term differs depending on whom you are talking to) to refer to the gay movement/culture (don't use the outdated GLBT -- the lesbians got really mad about being placed second, because it trivializes women...). Queer is controversial. I like it, and it's used fairly frequently in LGBTQ circles, but occasionally you'll run into someone who is really offended by it. I suspect that in Toronto and San Francisco, it's run-of-the-mill and non-offensive, and that in the American Mid-West it's still a slur word.
I also occasionally use more colourful terms that really only appear in gay writing about homosexuality -- "eromenoi" is the ancient Greek for "beloved," and is used in various ancient texts to refer to the younger male partner in a homosexual relationship; Sapphic is an alternate for lesbian that refers directly to the poetess Sappho; then there are more specific terms like "ladyboy" or "leatherman." Generally, it's not a good idea to use these unless you've got a really splashy idiom, or you have to write about homosexuality often enough that you get really sick of using the same terms over and over again.
So that's that. The second thing that I wanted to deal with is the fraternal correction issue. I do realize that in families fraternal correction is almost never actually offered in an ideal way -- there are few of us who are capable of being perfectly rational agents at all times. I do think, however, that the standards set by St. Thomas are a good ideal, and a lot of the time it is possible to be more reasonable than we are inclined to be. To be honest, I'm thinking about the issue to a large degree in terms of issues other than same-sex attraction that have arisen in my own family. I'm not perfectly rational in offering correction, and I know how difficult it can be, but I've found over years of non-productive fighting that if you actually work hard and train yourself to follow St. Thomas' advice, you can move towards a much more effective and fruitful discussion. Note that I'm seeing this as something that you work on over a period of years, not something that I think most people will be capable of in the minutes after their son/daughter/wife/husband comes out of the closet. That said, it's probably a good idea to cultivate a general habit of reasonableness, and to contemplate in advance the likelihood that one's nearest and dearest relations are likely to develop serious patterns of sin, which will require charitable correction. It's the same as being prepared in advance for the times in which personal temptation will be especially strong, and for the likelihood that you will occasionally fall down. If you get it into your head that you're never, ever, ever going to sin seriously ever again, then when you do, you'll be shocked and stunned and angry and ill-disposed to deal with it. If you resolve not to sin, but accept that some day you probably will anyways, and get yourself ready to repent, and accept the fact of your own weakness with humility, then when it happens, there's a lot less wounded pride to get in the way. Same deal, I think, with being prepared to deal with the sins of others, especially sins that are likely to cause hurt and grief to oneself.